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College Hockey:
Bracketology, Hockey-Style

With the expansion of the NCAA tournament to 16 teams this year, even knowledgeable people around college hockey have been thrown into confusion about the new seeding process. And since the NCAA has publicized its new guidelines for seeding, here is a first peek — “bracketology”-style — at what the NCAA tournament would look like if the season ended today.

It’s designed to promote discussion and debate. Given the games left in the season and the gray areas still present in the seeding process, by no means is this what the tournament will actually look like.

But it is the best logic available, given the selection criteria currently in place.

We start by assuming that the tournament winners of the CCHA, ECAC, Hockey East and WCHA are already in the Top 14 of the PairWise Rankings. This means that no team from those conferences makes the tournament that wouldn’t already have been an at-large seed.

The facts:

cc t preissing Bracketology, Hockey Style

Tom Preissing and CC are No. 1 overall in the PairWise Rankings (photo: Casey B. Gibson)
  • Sixteen teams are selected to participate in the national tournament.
  • There are now four regional sites, up from previous years’ two.
  • A host institution which is invited to the tournament plays in the regional for which it is the host, and cannot be moved.
  • Seedings will not be switched, as opposed to years past. To avoid undesirable first-round matchups, including intra-conference games (see below), teams will be moved among regionals, not reseeded as in past years.

    Here are the NCAA’s guidelines on the matter, per a meeting of the Championship Committee:

    In setting up the tournament, the committee begins with a list of priorities to ensure a successful tournament on all fronts including competitive equity, financial success and likelihood of playoff-type atmosphere at each regional site. For the model, the following is a basic set of priorities:

  • The top four teams as ranked by the committee are the four No. 1 seeds and will be placed in the bracket so that if all four teams advance to the Men’s Frozen Four, the No. 1 seed will play the No. 4 seed and the No. 2 seed will play the No. 3 seed in the semifinals.
  • Host institutions that qualify will be placed at home.
  • No. 1 seeds are placed as close to home as possible in order of their ranking 1-4.
  • Conference matchups in first round are avoided.
  • Once the six automatic qualifiers and 10 at-large teams are selected, the next step is to develop four groups from the committee’s ranking of 1-16. The top four teams are the No. 1 seeds. The next four are targeted as No. 2 seeds. The next four are No. 3 seeds and the last four are No. 4 seeds.

    Additionally, the NCAA recently clarified its selection criteria to include a bonus factor for “good” nonconference wins. Since the precise workings of the bonus are not yet known, that standard is not applied in this analysis.

    Given these facts, let’s take a look at the current PairWise Rankings (as of March 3, 2003):

    1 Colorado College
    2 Maine
    3 Cornell
    4 Minnesota
    5 New Hampshire
    6 Ferris State
    7 Boston College
    7 Boston University
    9 Michigan
    10 MSU-Mankato
    11 St. Cloud State
    11 North Dakota
    13 Providence
    14 Denver
    14 Ohio State
    16 Harvard
    16 Michigan State
    16 Dartmouth
    19 Minnesota-Duluth
    19 Northern Michigan
    21 Western Michigan
    22 Massachusetts
    23 Notre Dame
    24 Miami
    25 Merrimack
    25 Yale
    25 Alaska-Fairbanks
    28 Mass.-Lowell
    28 Wisconsin
    30 Alabama-Huntsville

    Step One

    From the committee’s report, choose the 16 teams in the tournament.

    Remember our assumption that the tournament winners of the CCHA, ECAC, Hockey East and WCHA are in the Top 14. We break ties in the PairWise Rankings by looking at the individual comparisons among the tied teams, and add the current CHA and MAAC leaders as those conferences’ autobid representatives.

    The 16 teams in the tournament, in rank order, are then:

    1 Colorado College
    2 Maine
    3 Cornell
    4 Minnesota
    5 New Hampshire
    6 Ferris State
    7 Boston College
    8 Boston University
    9 Michigan
    10 Minnesota State
    11 St. Cloud State
    12 North Dakota
    13 Providence
    14 Denver
    15 Alabama-Huntsville
    16 Mercyhurst

    Step Two

    Now it’s time to assign the seeds.

    No. 1 Seeds — Colorado College, Maine, Cornell, Minnesota
    No. 2 Seeds — New Hampshire, Ferris State, Boston College, Boston University
    No. 3 Seeds — Michigan, Minnesota State, St. Cloud, North Dakota
    No. 4 Seeds — Providence, Denver, Alabama-Huntsville, Mercyhurst

    Step Three

    Place the No. 1 seeds in regionals. Following the guidelines, there is only one rule which must be enforced immediately, that of the host team being placed in its own regional. In this case, the only such team is Minnesota, so the Gophers are placed in the West Regional.

    Now we place the other No. 1 seeds based on proximity to the regional sites.

    Colorado College is placed in the Midwest Regional.
    Maine is placed in the Northeast Regional.
    Cornell is placed in the East Regional.

    Step Four

    Now we place the other 12 teams so as to avoid intra-conference matchups if possible.

    Begin by filling in each bracket by banding groups. Remember that the teams are assigned to the regional closest to their sites by ranking order within the banding (unless you are a host school, in which case you get assigned to your home regional).

    No. 2 Seeds

    unh m ayers 1 Bracketology, Hockey Style

    UNH, which would likely be seeded No. 2 in the East Regional, is backstopped by Michael Ayers (photo: Josh Gibney).

    Boston University goes to the Northeast Regional as the host.
    New Hampshire goes to the East Regional.
    Ferris State goes to the Midwest Regional.
    Boston College goes to the West Regional.

    No. 3 Seeds

    Michigan goes to the Midwest Regional as the host.
    Minnesota State goes to the West Regional.
    St. Cloud/North Dakota goes to the Northeast Regional (no compelling reason yet for either choice).
    St. Cloud/North Dakota goes to the East Regional.

    No. 4 Seeds

    Providence goes to the East Regional as the host.
    Denver goes to the West Regional.
    Alabama-Huntsville goes to the Midwest Regional.
    Mercyhurst goes to the Northeast Regional.

    Now, let’s take a look at the brackets as we have set them up.

    West Regional:

    Minnesota vs. Denver
    Boston College vs. Minnesota State

    Midwest Regional:

    Colorado College vs. Alabama-Huntsville
    Ferris State vs. Michigan

    East Regional:

    Cornell vs. Providence
    New Hampshire vs. St. Cloud/North Dakota

    Northeast Regional:

    Maine vs. Mercyhurst
    Boston University vs. St. Cloud/North Dakota

    Our first concern is avoiding intra-conference matchups. We see that in both the West Regional and the Midwest Regional we have this case.

    We need to try to eliminate Denver vs. Minnesota and Ferris State vs. Michigan.

    Addressing the Minnesota-Denver game first, Minnesota, as the host school, cannot be switched. So Denver has to move regions. Denver can switch with any of the other three No. 4 seeds, but, we can’t move Denver to the Midwest Regional since that creates another all-WCHA matchup with Colorado College. And we can’t move Denver to the East Regional since Providence is the host. That leaves Mercyhurst. So we make the switch. Denver goes to the Northeast Regional and Mercyhurst goes to the West Regional.

    Now we address Ferris State vs. Michigan. Once again, Michigan, as a host school, cannot be moved. Therefore Ferris State must change places with another No. 2 seed. Likewise, Boston University cannot be moved since it is a host. That leaves New Hampshire or Boston College. New Hampshire is the higher seed of the two teams based on our original ranking of 16, so the Wildcats get to play closer to home. That means we make the switch of Boston College with Ferris State.

    Where to place St. Cloud and North Dakota? North Dakota is seed “3d” while St. Cloud is seed “3c.” How about New Hampshire and Boston University? New Hampshire is “2a”; BU is “2d.” Let’s match the highest with the lowest for one game, and then we’ll have our other matchup set as well. In this case New Hampshire plays North Dakota and BU plays St. Cloud.

    The brackets:

    West Regional:

    Minnesota vs. Mercyhurst
    Ferris State vs. Minnesota State

    Midwest Regional:

    Colorado College vs. Alabama-Huntsville
    Boston College vs. Michigan

    East Regional:

    Cornell vs. Providence
    New Hampshire vs. North Dakota

    Northeast Regional:

    Maine vs. Denver
    Boston University vs. St. Cloud

    We now add two ad hoc steps to finish out the selections.

    Step Five

    Examine the brackets for final, equitable changes.

    We can switch Alabama-Huntsville and Mercyhurst. The logic for doing this is that Colorado College, as the top seed, should play the 16th overall selection, Mercyhurst. So we’ll make that switch.

    So we have our tournament bracket.

    West Regional:

    1 Minnesota vs. 4 Alabama-Huntsville
    2 Ferris State vs. 3 Minnesota State

    Midwest Regional:

    1 Colorado College vs. 4 Mercyhurst
    2 Boston College vs. 3 Michigan

    East Regional:

    1 Cornell vs. 4 Providence
    2 New Hampshire vs. 3 North Dakota

    Northeast Regional:

    1 Maine vs. 4 Denver
    2 Boston University vs. 3 St. Cloud

    Now we can bracket the Frozen Four. If all four number one seeds advance, then the No. 1 seed plays the No. 4 seed and the No. 2 seed plays the No. 3 seed. Therefore, the winners of the West and Midwest Regionals face each other in one semifinal (Minnesota and Colorado College’s brackets), while the winners of the East and Northeast Regionals (Cornell and Maine’s brackets) face each other in the other semifinal.

    Step Six

    Sit back, discuss and enjoy the hockey.

    We’ll be back next Monday with an updated look at the potential NCAA tournament brackets.


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